Before I begin this post, about Piers Gaveston's return to England in early 1312 after his third exile, I have to get something out of my system. I feel like grabbing Edward II by the shoulders and shaking him and screaming "What are you doing, man?? You're tearing your kingdom apart! You're going to get him killed! I know you love him, but COME ON!!!" But that's often the effect Edward II has on me. I'm torn between wanting to hug him and wanting to smack him round the head.
As I wrote in my last post, Piers was sent into exile in early November 1311, and from the evidence available, seems to have accepted that it would last for at least a few years. However, in January 1312, he returned to England.
Why he did this is not clear. It may be that he only intended to slip into England for a little while, to see his wife Margaret de Clare, who was pregnant when he left, and their newborn child - then leave again once he knew they were well. It may also be that Edward recalled him, as the Vita suggests: "out of hatred for the earls he recalled Piers, swearing as he was wont on God’s soul that he would freely use his own judgement."
Unfortunately, as regular readers of this blog will know, Edward II had no judgement whatsoever.
The chronology of events is murky, but what seems to have happened is this. Edward spent Christmas 1311 at Westminster with Queen Isabella, and left a few days later, leaving her behind. He spent New Year at Windsor, and Isabella sent him 'precious gifts' there. Sometime in early January 1312, Edward left Windsor and headed north to Yorkshire, collecting his niece Margaret de Clare from Wallingford on the way. From Wallingford to York is 200 miles, a dreadful journey for the very pregnant Margaret, especially on winter roads.
Presumably, Edward knew that Piers was on his way back, and wanted to get Margaret out of the way of the Ordainers, who, furious at Piers' return, might use her as a hostage - or to ensure that Margaret gave birth far away from the Ordainers, so that Piers could slip into the country to see her and his child.
Margaret gave birth to Piers' daughter Joan, named after her mother and Edward II's sister Joan of Acre, on or around 12 January (so she was close to nine months pregnant when dragged on the long journey north, poor thing, and the timing suggests that they travelled very fast). Edward seems to have met Piers at Knaresborough on 13 January, and the two men rushed the seventeen miles to York that same day, almost certainly so Piers could see his wife and baby. (I'm following the interpretation of Pierre Chaplais from his book Piers Gaveston: Edward II's Adoptive Brother here.) A contemporary newsletter, undated, says that the king arrived in York 'this Thursday', and 13 January is the only Thursday that makes sense. When Piers returned to England, where he landed, and how he made his way to Knaresborough, is not known, except that he spent two nights in Nottingham on the way (J. S. Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall 1307-1312).
Possibly, Piers intended to leave England once he had seen Margaret and Joan - this interpretation is not at all certain, but I do like the idea of Piers promising his wife that he'd be with her when she gave birth, despite the danger. But Edward II took the decision out of his hands. On 18 January 1312, Edward revoked his friend’s exile: Gaveston, "who was lately exiled contrary to law and custom, in which exile he was named as other than good and loyal, has returned to the kingdom by the king’s order and is ready to justify himself before the king, wherefore the king holds him good and loyal." (Close Rolls/Foedera). The bit "by the king's order" does, of course, suggest that Piers' return was Edward's idea.
Edward had his sheriffs proclaim the (good?!) news, and two days later, ordered them to restore Gaveston’s lands to him. Two memoranda were added: "this form [revoking the exile] was made by the king himself, and he took the writs as soon as they were made and put them on his bed" and "these writs were made in the king’s presence by his order under threat of grievous forfeiture" (Close Rolls). Evidently Edward's chancery clerks were reluctant to write out the writs - understandably - and he lost his temper and threatened them, typical Edward behaviour. The reference to putting the writs on his bed is further proof that he didn't trust his clerks, and wanted to keep the writs himself, just in case.
On 26 January, Edward tried to mollify his barons by ordering that the Ordinances, published the previous autumn, should be observed, "so far as they are not prejudicial to the king". (Close Rolls). However, according to the contemporary but undated newsletter, Edward met knights and other 'good men' (bone gentz) of Yorkshire, and "told them that what he had done and granted in London [agreeing to the Ordinances] was against his will and that he has revoked everything which the earls have done and ordained". Edward was playing a dangerous double game.
The Ordainers met in London in early February. Despite their fury with Edward, they were reluctant to make war on him, a thing not lightly done. To cut a very long story short, they made plans to capture Piers, and the earl of Lancaster slowly made his way north, organising jousting tournaments en route as a way of raising a large force of armed men. The task of arresting Piers was given to the earls of Pembroke and Surrey - two of Piers' least hostile opponents - as well as Robert Clifford and Henry Percy.
Meanwhile, Queen Isabella left Westminster and joined her husband in the north; Edward gave her £400 for her expenses on the journey, which took just under three weeks (to travel 200 miles!) Isabella send letters and gifts to Edward during her journey, including a basket of lampreys, via her messenger John Moigne. (Household Book of Queen Isabella). She reached York on or just after 21 February, whereafter she and Edward conceived Edward III.
Incredibly, Edward made overtures to Robert Bruce, and offered to acknowledge him as king of Scots if Bruce would agree to protect Piers. This is just incredible. I don't even have the words to describe what an incredible offer that was. And did I mention that this is totally incredible? Bruce refused, exclaiming "How shall the king of England keep faith with me, since he does not observe the sworn promises made to his liege men?…No trust can be put in such a fickle man; his promises will not deceive me." (Vita). Oops. Further proof that Edward II would do anything, anything, for Piers Gaveston. I wonder why he didn't just hand over the keys of his kingdom to the Ordainers while he was at it.
Edward and Piers, and their respective wives, remained in the north, unaware that the Ordainers were coming to capture Piers, and that he didn't have much longer to live...